Race Horses: The Investment With a Real ‘Track’ Record

Above: Thoroughbred racehorse Hilton Magic is all business on the track, but by the barn he’s happy to mug for the camera with owner/trainer Tanner Tracy.

BY STEVE DINNEN

They call it the sport of kings. But non-royals can get in on horse racing, too. Not just at the $2 window, but with ownership of a thoroughbred racer that might make fantastic sums of money–or at least give you enjoyment.

Tanner Tracy owns all or part of about three dozen racehorses that he stables at the Prairie Meadows racetrack in Altoona. He owns some of the horses outright, or with his parents, or with an assortment of partners who will own a piece of this horse, or that one. Tracy is the managing partner for the ownership group. As such he purchases the horses, oversees their training and care, finds jockeys and decides when they will race (they typically have several weeks between races to recuperate). On the day we talked, he was backing a load of hay into a barn at Prairie Meadows.

Horses typically are owned by groups of investors, sometimes called syndicates. The amount of money needed depends on the value of the horse. The Jockey Club estimated that in 2017 the average cost of a yearling, which has yet to launch its racing career, was $65,000. More modestly, the Iowa Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Association (www.iowathoroughbred.com), holds a sale every Fall, where recent top sellers have fetched as much as $48,000.

The purchase price is just the start. Then you have to pay for training, stabling, feeding and hauling the horses from track to track as one racing season winds down and another ramps up. So a lot of money goes out before there is any chance for a horse to show its stuff, and in many cases they don’t end up as winners.

“It’s a high-risk business,” Tracy says. But there are payoffs, which Jerry Crawford can attest to. He is president of Donegal Racing, a Des Moines-based racing business that in its 11 years in business has run three horses at the Kentucky Derby. Two of them finished in the money.

Donegal (www.donegalracing.com), typically buys 15 horses every year. They then package all of one year’s horses into an LLC, a move designed to spread the risk—and reward—across a wider pool of horses. They sell positions in that LLC, with a 1 percent stake being a minimum buy-in. Syndicates don’t necessarily require investors to be accredited, though they may by way of the rules they set. Regardless, Crawford says, “you have to do your due diligence” and make sure ownership is the right fit for you.

It is a horse race, after all.

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